How can nanotechnologies be applied in pharmaceutical packaging?

How can nanotechnologies be applied in pharmaceutical packaging?

By Heidi Reidel

In this article, we address the use of nanotechnologies in pharmaceutical packaging. First, we will illustrate the ways in which nanotechnologies can be applied to pharmaceuticals. We will then discuss the technology that has already been developed for this purpose and how it is struggling to succeed commercially.

Why pharmaceuticals need nanotech:

The market for counterfeit drugs is worth upwards of $75 billion. Pharmaceutical companies have a lot to gain by investing in technology used for authentication. Because pharmaceuticals are so heavily regulated, they may even be required to take extra measures to ensure their products are safe.

What we have isn’t working:

Some authentication measures are already being used in pharmaceutical packaging, such as holograms. The problem, however, with technology that can be seen by the naked eye is that it is more susceptible to counterfeit. Hologram technology is more widely available. Companies are beginning to look for solutions on the nanoscale.  

Anti-counterfeiting and more:

Nanotechnology in pharmaceutical packaging does more than fight counterfeiters. It also prevents products from being distributed outside of their intended market. Brand owners can track where distributors are sending their product. If a batch number hidden on the product’s package is tied with a destination, someone could identify if a product has shown up in a market where it is not supposed to be. They could then trace where products were sent and find the point of diversion.

Nanotechnology for the purpose of authentication and track-and-trace can also be used to provide a drug pedigree. Some places are requiring pharmaceutical firms to provide a drug’s history from its point of manufacture. Furthermore, high-end brands may be eager to use anti-counterfeit nanotechnology to protect the value of their products.

The technology is out there:

Several companies have developed methods of using nanotechnology as part of authentication and anti-counterfeiting technologies in pharmaceutical packaging. A company called NanoInk patented a Dip Pen Nanolithography technique that applies drug information directly onto pills. They were hoping to use the same technique on packaging for a layered solution to counterfeiting.

Oxonica Inc., formerly Nanoplex Technologies, has also developed nano barcodes for authentication and track-and-trace. Their product is a powder that can be added to liquid or surface coatings. The nanoparticles are made up of metals (i.e. gold, silver, and platinum) which create stripes using the different reflectivity of the metals. The stripe order can then be altered to create different codes.

A company in Israel called Advanced Coding Systems (ACS) Ltd. developed near-nanoscale barcodes that can be scanned through the package. The technology is called DataFiber and uses ACS’s MicroWire technology to create covert code. ACS partnered with Applied DNA Sciences to develop new security products by marrying ADNAS’s botanical DNA security technology with ACS’s technology.

Failures and successes:

While the technology has been developed, there appears to be some struggle involved in commercialization. NanoInk announced its shutdown in February of 2013. A company called Nanonics Imaging Ltd. is using similar technology for their Fountain Pen Nanolithography Multiprobe system, it does not appear to have the same applications. Oxonica was sold to Cabot Corporation in 2010. Neither Oxonica nor ACS seem to have commercialized their products.

Applied DNA Sciences, on the other hand, advertises their digital DNA supply chain security system, which is a cloud-based platform used to track DNA-marked products. Any business in the supply chain can access information such as chain of custody paths, quality and reference documents, etc. Their DNA Molecular Tags are part of their pharmaceutical supply chain security.

Pharmaceutical authentication is about more than saving pharmaceutical firms money; counterfeit drugs present dangers to consumers. Anti-counterfeit measures need to be taken, but the relative failure to commercialize nanotechnology in packaging leaves the future of this technology in question. It remains to be seen if nanotechnologies will be the future of authentication in pharmaceutical packaging.

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